By Eamonn McCann
I am surprised that there has been so much comment on what Martin McGuinness is alleged to have said to Jonathan Powell about Bloody Sunday and so little on what Jonathan Powell himself has said about Bloody Sunday.
Powell, former chief of staff (familiar ring to that) in Blair’s administration, last week published his account of how he and Blair, with a little help from their friends, through selfless dedication and heroic commitment, brought peace to our troubled land.
In his book, the stupidly-titled “Great Hatred, Little Room”, Powell says that during the talks that led to the Agreement he mentioned to Martin that he’d come to believe that setting up the Saville Tribunal had been a mistake. The intention, he says, “had been to demonstrate to nationalists and republicans that we were even-handed...(But) the inquiry cost the taxpayer #200m that could have been spent on other things...And it has failed to give satisfaction to either side.”
He quotes the Deputy First Minister as responding that, “He didn’t know why we had done it: he thought an apology would have been quite sufficient.”
Whether or not Martin McGuinness said this, it’s wrong.
More important is what the exchange reveals about Powell’s mind-set---and therefore, presumably, Blair’s mind-set---with regard to the North.
What are the “sides” that Powell says the inquiry hasn’t satisfied? Presumably the Catholic and Protestant communities. In other words, Powell sees Bloody Sunday as an issue between Catholics and Protestants. In his perspective, the British Government stands above and between the “two sides”, striving to strike a balance, to satisfy everybody.
It strikes me as astonishing that this view of the matter should have passed without comment by politicians here, particularly Derry politicians.
The British Government is one of the “sides” as far as Bloody Sunday is concerned. The January 1972 atrocity wasn’t perpetrated by one community against the other. It was perpetrated by soldiers of the British Government. Resolution of the issues arising from it cannot be based on balance between the communities, but only by holding Powell’s side to account.
Powell’s remarks display arrogance, ignorance, unwillingness to accept responsibility and a tendency to attribute all blame for the violence of the last 35 years to the irrational hatreds of the Irish, entirely absolving the British establishment. It sums up well enough what the Bloody Sunday families have had to deal with in their epic struggle for truth.
Bloody Sunday was a crime by the British State against the people of the Bogside. It would have been as great a crime had it been done to the people of Irish Street. The case for the Inquiry was that the State cannot be allowed to murder its citizens and walk away, tossing an apology over its shoulder, offering no explanation of who was responsible or how such a thing could have happened.
An apology “quite sufficient”? No way.
As for Powell’s claim that, “The Inquiry cost the taxpayer around #200m that could have been spent on other things.” Yeah. And far more other things could have been done with the billions wasted on the war in Iraq which Powell, through fraud and lies and contempt for non-British lives, played a prominent part in procuring.